Skip to main content

At the Chalk Face: An Open Letter to Bill Gates and a Keynote Challenge

Dear Bill,

You don’t know me. I have never applied for one of your fat, corporate-reform-promoting education grants. I am not even tempted to even though I have little money. You see, I am a career public school teacher, and I consider your money wielding a detriment to a healthy democratic society.

You and other philanthropists have given me a lot to write about over the past year. Whereas I have a book in press on the privatization of public education (and yes, you are in that book), most of my writing I have done on this blog for free. Readers can take or leave my work as they choose.

What has been wonderful is that I have an ever-increasing following, not because I have purchased anyone’s favor, but because what I write resonates with my readers.

I am even being offered speaking engagements.

I know that you also garner speaking engagements– likely far more than I ever will. It seems that people think you are an expert because you give them money.

Maybe they feel they owe you keynote spots since you slide them millions.

My first experience with your keynote purchase involved your July 2010 keynote to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

Frankly, your opening to that speech makes me ill:

Thank you, Randi, for inviting me here to speak. I want to also thank you and the AFT members for supporting historic reforms in public education. You all have surprised a lot of people lately by launching reforms with a long list of unexpected partners. 

Melinda and I are proud to have our names on that list. [Emphasis added.]

I am an AFT member, Bill, and I do not support your “historic reforms.” In fact, in November 2013, I publicly called out AFT President Randi Weingarten in this open letter for taking your money.

I asked her to return it.

She has not done so.

The same month of your AFT keynote– July 2010– you gave AFT $4 million “to support the American Federation of Teachers Innovation Fund and the union’s teacher development and evaluation programs.”

That year on its IRS Form 990,  AFT reported receiving $6.9 million in contributions and grants– almost its entire total revenue.

So, Bill, you gave AFT more than half of its 2010 total funding.

Furthermore, it seems that you are the primary funder of the PBS channel, The Teaching Channel– which just so happens to endorse and promote the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

As education blogger Anthony Cody notes in February 2014, you get to pump money into the reforms of your choice, not the least of which is CCSS.

In 2013, I wrote a series on your CCSS spending– much of which is used to sell CCSS and push implementation.

You will be happy to know that Randi Weingarten is still pushing your agenda– CCSS implementation down classroom teachers’ throats.

So is National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel. NEA has also taken several millions from you.

When I concluded my series on your CCSS spending, the total was $173.5 million.

And though US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan insists that your money does not buy for you decision making power over American education, I have found that you are even purchasing “restructuring advice” for the USDOE.

So, the latest news is that you are to give a keynote at the 2014 National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).

I knew that NBPTS belonged to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), but I did not know that you owned it, as well.

Anthony Cody highlights your NBPTS purchase:

The National Board has received several grants from the Gates Foundation in recent years. In 2010, the organization actively participated in the Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching project, receiving $1,195,639 to score videos of teaching. 

More recently, The National Board received a Gates Foundation grant in the amount of $3,743,337 ”to support revision of the National Board certification process.” …

Given the way in which Gates Foundation grants have influenced organizations that have received them, I wonder if the revised National Board certification process will include the use of student test scores or Value Added metrics as part of teacher portfolios?

The best teacher leadership, just like journalism or any other endeavor that requires integrity, ought to be independent of the undue influence of corporate sponsors, even those willing to whisper praise in our ears. I hope the National Board guards this independence fiercely. 

Regarding your upcoming NBPTS speech, Cody concludes the following:

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) has announced that Bill Gates will be a keynote speaker at their 2014 Teaching and Learning conference next month. If this speech follows recent patterns, he will praise teachers to the heavens, while downplaying the ways in which reforms he has advanced have undermined our profession. 

However, Bill, I would like to offer you this challenge:

How about speaking on the destructive influence of unchecked billionaire spending on the democratic foundations of freedom of the press and public education?

It seems that you have a lot to say about how the world should be run.

In January 2012, you even gave this speech in which you identify lack of accountability as a primary cause of state education budget deficits– yet you toss millions around with your opinions attached and are accountable to no one.

Your money is philanthropic cocaine to the organizations accepting your dollars.

Your millions appear to foster a quick addiction in which organizations bend their agendas to suit the stream of your continued millions– to the detriment of their constituents.

It is time for you to be accountable, Bill. Toward this end, the best I have is to call you out on my free blog.

In your 2014 NBPTS speech, break new ground by offering a plan for your own accountability regarding your education reform spending.

Feel free to share your plan with Eli Broad and the Waltons.

Perhaps you might form a philanthropic support group to help each other withdraw from the bored-billionaire addiction to purchasing democracy.

You could be your own “next” project.


Mercedes Schneider

Public school teacher and self-declared “hundredaire”

This blog post has been shared by permission from the author.
Readers wishing to comment on the content are encouraged to do so via the link to the original post.
Find the original post here:

The views expressed by the blogger are not necessarily those of NEPC.

Mercedes Schneider

Mercedes Schneider is a Louisiana public school teacher and education activist. She holds a Ph.D. in applied statistics and research methods and has taught for th...